Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s book, “The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and That Veil Thing,” is a response in itself to the question that she asks her readers in beginning of description on the back of the book. Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s, an American Muslim mom, answers every possible question about her faith and religious practice on behalf of all Muslims that any non-Muslim reader may want to ask. Sumbul Ali-Karamali, who holds a graduate degree in Islamic Law, uses a conversational tone in her book to highlight a number of aspects of the Muslim faith in language and terms that can be understood by the average reader. Not only does she provide readers with the basic principles of Islam, but she also manages to successfully counter any attack or false claim that anyone would aim at the religion. Her book explains what it means to be a Muslim and what it means to live with dignity and honor. Even though she approaches the subject matter academically but she conveys her message through anecdotes and stories as well.
In her book, Ali-Karamali does not try to treat difficult questions hurriedly, or shy away from them. The book is divided in 11 chapters in which the issues that are so often highlighted on the media, such as jihad, stoning, veiling, etc. have been tackled. In the first part of the book, the basics of Islam have been described. Ali-Karamali provides personal stories of her childhood and of her teenage life growing up as a Muslim in California to give non-Muslim readers an idea of what it is like to live as Muslim. Her stories are amusing and moving, and reveal her liveliness and eagerness for truth. She then proceeds to delve into the details of Islam, she discusses the Qur’an, Muhammad, and how Islam Judeo-Christian tradition is stems from Islam.
Ali-Karamali intelligently explains just about every misconception that the West may have about Islam, for instance, why people think the Qur’an is oppressive and violent, etc. She makes quite a good case that the actual Qur’an in almost 1,300 years old, is in Arabic, and there were certain circumstances under which its verses were revealed so readers cannot simply hope to pick up an English translation of the Qur’an, read it and expect to understand it. She even delves into the fact that non-Arabic speakers may have a hard time understanding the Qur’an because of the linguistic nature of Arabic. Therefore, she emphasizes that non-Muslims should not base their understanding of the Qur’an on English translations that contain no context or footnotes.
Other common myths about the Qur’an have also been debunked in the book and she condemns those who quote the Qur’an out of context. Ali-Karamali also expresses her discontent towards those who take an antagonistic approach to Islam, such as those who quote Qur’anic surahs in bits and pieces. Therefore, she takes note of various Qur’anic verses that often incompletely quoted to vilify Islam. She takes this path throughout her book, and in the process highlights many modern misconceptions about the religion. She clarifies that Islam does not have a central leader, such as the Pope, which is the reason that actions of a specific group of Islamic followers or terrorists are not immediately denounced. However, she adds that there are numerous Islamic communities that actually stand up to terrorism. She also explores the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.
Ali-Karamali cites the lack of fair coverage by the media as one of the reasons why the West and other non-Muslims continue to have misconceptions about Islam. For instance, she writes about how people are still curious, and keep asking her, why no statements have been made by the Muslim clergy and the overall Muslim population that condemn the September 11 attacks. Her explanation is that Muslims have actually condemned the acts to a great extent, that it is the media that has failed to bring them to the news. Moreover, she points out that the media tends to use a very different language when covering a story about Muslims. For instance, she highlights this difference in language: “We do not ‘attack’ Muslims, we ‘respond’ to them” (Ali-Karamali).
One particular area in the book where Ali-Karamali seems to really excel is the way she describes women in Islam. She condemns the idea of the subjugation of Islamic women. She counters this notion by illustrating the fact that many Islamic teachings actually have a very progressive character. She examines the treatment of women during the birth of Islam by using lesions from the history of the religion. She highlights women are elevated by the teachings of the Qur’an just like several other religious teachings have. She also highlights how Islam liberated women in certain aspects by pointing out facts such as before Islam, Arabian women did not have the right to divorce and it was not possible for them to inherit.
In the final chapter of her book, Ali-Karamali explains by the West continues to have persistent misconceptions about Islam. She cites reasons such as historical division, language barrier, and media distortion. For any non-Muslim who is interested in finding out more about Islam or has misconceptions about the religion should definitely read Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s “The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media.” This book is sure to convince those who are doubtful about what Muslims stand for. This book is also an important read for Muslims as well because it will help them efficiently respond to difficult questions that are often raised about their religion. Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s exceptional book is engaging because of the fact that she combines extensive research with her own personal experiences to help the Western world understand Muslims and Islam.
Ali-Karamali, Sumbul. The Muslim Next Door, The Qur'an, The Media, And That Veil Thing. 1st ed. Ashland: White Cloud Press, 2008. Print.